Let’s Not Cheat Two Generations from Meeting their Full Potential

By Alicia Guevara Warren, Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) 

For those of us who have kids, the struggles of being a new parent are unforgettable. Kids don’t come with a handbook or instruction booklet, and we often feel like we are learning as we go along. It doesn’t matter how old you were when you became a parent, raising children in today’s world can be challenging. And becoming a parent at a young age can present additional difficulties. While teen parents face limited opportunities and barriers, there is another group of young parents who are often overlooked, but have their own unique challenges as they transition into adulthood and parenting simultaneously: young adult parents ages 18-24.

The latest national KIDS COUNT policy report, Opening Doors for Young Children, brings to the forefront the obstacles experienced by the nearly 3 million young adult parents in the United States. In Michigan, there are approximately 85,000 young parents, which is about 9% of young adults ages 18-24. There are about 100,000 children in Michigan with at least one young parent. These two generations represent a significant opportunity to help both reach their full potential, if we craft policy in ways that remove barriers and use a two-generation approach.

With limited resources and opportunities, young parents struggle to make ends meet: nearly 3 in 4 children in our state with young parents live in families with low incomes. In today’s economy, we know the importance of postsecondary education, training or credentialing, which all give people a much higher chance of securing jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, offer benefits and more. Yet, the share of young parents with an associate’s degree or higher is less than 9%. Even more troubling is that nearly 46% of children with young parents have at least one parent who is “disconnected,” meaning not employed or in the labor force and not attending school. Close to one in five kids with young parents have both parents disconnected from work and education.

Young parents often face high tuition costs, unaffordable housing, lack of child care, inflexible work situations and other barriers that block paths to advancement opportunities. These factors make it harder to for young parents to get good-paying jobs with benefits and predictable work schedules. But there are actions we can take to help ensure that young parents and their children are supported.

This includes continuing to build on the recent investments to expand access to high-quality, affordable child care; only 5% of young parents nationwide receive child care subsidies even though they need it. Also, combining child care with postsecondary education and training programs will meet the needs of these parents. We also can ensure that the Earned Income Tax Credit reaches this young population, including parents who do not live in the same home, to allow workers to keep more of what they earn to help them support their children. Expanding home visiting programs is another strategy to reach families and improve outcomes. And while the Michigan Legislature has adopted ballot language to increase the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave to workers, we must ensure that those measures are not tampered with in the weeks ahead.

Young parents need what all parents need, but they also need what all young people need. If we leave young adult parents and their children behind, we leave America’s future behind. By creating policies that help young parents, we can empower two generations to become stronger at once.

If you’re a young parent, please consider reaching out to the League to share your story.